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Thu, May 22, 2003 - Page 12 News List

In Pakistan, piracy is a social service

SUBSTANTIAL DISCOUNT Although the government in Pakistan has said that it has upgraded its IPR protection program, analysts say the law is not being implemented

REUTERS , KARACHI

A Pakistani vendor sells posters of Indian film stars on a roadside in the Punjab provincial city of Multan on Tuesday. Pakistan says it is making efforts to fight piracy and has upgraded legislation to comply with international agreements. But despite this claim, pirated products remain openly on sale in virtually every market in the country, mainly because what industry officials say is the non-implementation of anti-piracy laws.

PHOTO: REUTERS

A shabbily dressed hawker squabbles with a teenager over the price of a latest Microsoft Windows program in Pakistan's biggest city Karachi.

The deal is closed at 40 rupees -- about US$0.70.

Saad Hasan has just bought a pirated copy of Windows XP, which is more readily available in Pakistan than the licensed product which retails at 5,800 rupees (US$100).

"Who can afford the original?" he said as he ran his fingers over row after row of CDs piled on the rickety push cart. "It would have cost me thousands of rupees. I can't afford that."

Another cart is stacked with Hollywood blockbusters and Indian "Bollywood" movies, all selling at less than a dollar.

The International Intellectual Property Alliance, based in Washington, ranked Pakistan one of the world's largest producers of pirated CDs and other optical discs for export in both 2001 and last year.

It said piracy of movies and music cost the industry around US$72 million in Pakistan last year and US$71 million the year before.

Now it wants Pakistan placed on the priority watchlist and has urged withdrawal of trade privileges on its exports to the US if the government fails to tackle the problem.

Pakistan says it has upgraded legislation to comply with international agreements. The Pakistani Commerce Ministry says it plans to set up an Intellectual Property Rights Organization to improve enforcement.

"Raids are conducted against violators and offenders are also being prosecuted," it said in a written response to queries.

"The illegal, offending material is being confiscated and in some cases being publicly destroyed."

Despite this claim, pirated products remain on open sale in virtually every market in the country.

Industry officials say a powerful mafia engaged in producing and selling pirated articles has effectively blocked half-hearted police efforts to crack down on the business.

According to Microsoft country manager Jawwad Rehman, more than 90 percent of the software and movies sold in Pakistan are pirated.

"We give heavy discounts to education institutions and students, but there are no buyers," he said. "They can get the pirated programs much cheaper."

Licensed Microsoft Office programs cost around 22,500 rupees (US$390), while the discounted rates are around 9,000 rupees (US$155). The pirated program on three CDs costs as little as 75 rupees (US$1.30).

The 12-story Rainbow Center in Saddar, the heart of Karachi, is Pakistan's biggest center for pirated movies and software with more than 200 shops.

Mohammed Omar, president of the Rainbow Video Cassette Dealers Association, said the market was providing a service for the poor.

"We are providing them with entertainment and knowledge. We cannot afford to sell copyright products as people cannot afford to buy," he said.

Tariq Rangoonwala, who runs Pulse Global, a company which markets English-language movies under licence for home entertainment, said piracy had all but killed his business.

"We started well in 1995, but now our sales are, I would say, non-existent," he said

Legitimate dealers are pushing the government to implement anti-piracy laws, but with little success.

"Laws are there to fight the problem," Rehman said. "The only issue is their implementation."

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